Let me preface this review with two statements which I think will go a long way to illustrating the level to which I enjoyed this film;
- I don’t particularly like Batman that much, my knowledge of him comes mainly from the Christopher Nolan movies and the Rocksteady series of games. I get some people love the series, but I’ve always been more of a “liker”
- I don’t like 3D animation in my anime, call me a gatekeeper or whatever, but most of the time it just looks straight up ass
Oh, actually, a third statement;
- I had a bottle of wine to myself when watching this film
Despite being based on Batman, and being illustrated with 3D animation, Batman Ninja is an absolute riot. This, alongside Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse should be case studies for why companies should be less protective with their IPs. If you hand your property over to a team with a clear vision and passion for the source material, you might just end up with something special.
I watched this with the Japanese dub, for the full, immersive experience. Hearing some of the typical anime lines coming out of Batman’s mouth was just hilarious, not to mention hearing Joker scream “BATTUHMONNH” at the top of his lungs. Joker is very much painted with the same brush as Goro Majima from the Yakuza series. Also, Robin has a daft haircut and the best monkey side-kick, gotta mention that.
It is worth mentioning this because having spoke to one of my friends who thought this movie sucked, I later found out he was watching the English dubbed version, which definitely will dampen your experience.
The Story is Just Monkey Business
The film opens with Batman fighting a villain named Gorilla Grodd, yeah, I’ve never heard of him either. And yes, he is an actual gorilla. I think his power might be mind control, but I’m not really sure. Anyway, he gets thrown back in time thanks to a time machine that the gorilla scientist is working on and so Bruce Wayne must find a way back to the future. On his journey you meet many familiar villains all reimagined in this feudal Japan style. The exchanges they have are short and snappy to get the job done, and there are probably a lot of fan service and references that I didn’t get. If you are a super-fan of the series, you may get more than I did from these segments.
The music, much like the art, is derived from traditional Japanese culture, traditional windpipes and heavy drumming a-plenty. It all sounds wicked and does add to the overall feel of the movie. There are some sections however where the music goes full “Shonen Jump”, it is both hilarious and awesome, I’m sure I’ll come back to this time and again throughout this review, but I really did have a good time watching this.
Style In Place of Substance
The character design though, this is why we are all here. It is sublime. Oh my days it looks so unbelievably cool. The Joker looks amazing with the art style and voice acting extenuating each of his quirky mannerisms and over the top body language. Bane is a sumo wrestler, The Penguin has actual penguins with samurai swords, Poison Ivy is obviously total waifu bait. I could not stop grinning each time these villains came on screen, especially given my previous experiences seeing the characters, all gritty, ugly and kind of disgusting. This totally reinvented them and made it seem like it was ripped straight out of Naruto.
As I said, the characters look amazing, redefined with a feudal Japan theme, standouts for me are The Joker and Robin. These new designs mesh perfectly with the art direction, which goes from the usual 3D style, to ink splattered still frames and even hand drawn sections. Which, while feeling jarring when they appear in contrast to the rest of the movie, are beautiful nonetheless.
Seriously, look at some of these designs throughout this review!
I love it.
Not Quite Sakuga
Throughout the film, there are several set pieces which had me laughing out loud and punching the air. If I wrote down what happens in the second half of this movie, not only would it spoil it for you, but you definitely would not believe me. Gurren Lagann has nothing on this. It gets absolutely bonkers and at just under an hour and a half, this is the perfect “beer and takeaway” kind of movie. Sadly, I sat and watched this alone, on a Saturday night, with a bottle of wine and a tube of salt and vinegar Pringles. Even given these dire circumstances, the film made me laugh and cheer as the madness unfolded.
I can’t stress enough how much I don’t want to spoil it, but if you have a love for anime, in any capacity, this film will pay homage to many genres which I think you may hold dear. If you aren’t a fan of the genre, this might just give you a little glimpse into what people love so much about it.
The Final Form
The art style is what is going to really draw you to this film, if you are intrigued even a little by the images peppered throughout this review, I think you’ll find a lot to like in the full movie. Most of all though, it is just a big laugh, and that is one of the highest compliments I can give a film. It was just a big ball of weird and wonderful fun. It never takes itself too seriously, which is obviously key when smashing together two genres such as this. If you have a love for either Batman, or anime in general, you will find something to like here, if you like both, this is going to rock your world.
DC films have a reputation for being stuck up, fun sponges, whilst I haven’t seen Aquaman or Shazam, this definitely looks to be a step in the right direction. In the coming years, I see this as being their niche to get even with Marvel. Several standalone films which use their characters, but in unique ways. This is certainly what I hope to see from the upcoming Joker movie.
In the meantime though, get this one watched.